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Arc'teryx Alpha AR 20 Review

This is a good all-around small pack that doesn't excel at rock climbing
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Price:  $129 List | $129.00 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, well-featured
Cons:  Expensive, complicated
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Ian McEleney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2020
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62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 13
  • Comfort - 25% 6
  • Climbing Utility - 25% 6
  • Durability - 20% 6
  • Versatility - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 4

Our Verdict

The Arc'teryx Alpha AR 20 is a great all-around 20-liter pack. In fact the "AR" in the name stands for "all-around." It's fairly comfortable, has all of the features we want in a small climbing pack, and the fancy fabric feels more durable than similar nylons. The lid is not particularly functional, we're not sure why it exists. The biggest strength of this pack - versatility - is also it's biggest weakness when it comes to multi-pitch rock climbing. Climbers who want to use their small climbing pack for all sorts of other jobs (mainly alpine climbing) might find this to be the right pack.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Search "Arc'teryx Alpha AR," and you'll find all sorts of relevant results from Arc'teryx that aren't this pack. Confusing naming schemes aside, the "AR" stands for "all-around" — and this bag gets that right. When it comes to multi-pitch rock climbing, it isn't our favorite, but it does work and also does well for other applications, specifically alpine climbing.

Performance Comparison


This generalist pack is good for many different climbing applications  including the first pitch of Whiteman's Falls.
This generalist pack is good for many different climbing applications, including the first pitch of Whiteman's Falls.

Comfort


The Arc'teryx Alpha AR 20 is not an uncomfortable pack. The shoulder straps have minimal padding, but that's appropriate for a pack of this volume. Testers with shorter torsos found that this pack did not cause too much trouble when chalking up and didn't interfere with a helmet when looking up.

This pack has some top to bottom taper, but less than other models. We liked the removable foam back pad. It is dual-density, so squishy on one side for comfort and firmer on the other, this lends the pack some structure and gives extra protection from pokey items. However, some testers found the added rigidity distracting while climbing.

We liked the dual-density foam in the back panel. It's removable.
We liked the dual-density foam in the back panel. It's removable.

Climbing Utility


The Alpha AR has the basic features we like on a small climbing pack, and some extras. It has all the standard hydration system accouterment. There's a small zippered pocket in the pack that holds a bit more than similar pockets in other packs. The pack also has a big exterior zippered pocket. We found that the shock-cord that comes on the pack makes it hard to fully use this pocket. Our testers removed it and replaced it with a longer piece.

The ice tool head attachment points were a little snug on Petzl Nomics, especially when the pack was already full. The buckle/hook which secures the lid is different from other packs and has a bit of a learning curve. We aren't totally sure what the purpose of the lid is on this pack. It has no pockets, slightly restricts the volume of the bag, and isn't that useful for holding a rope when the bag is anywhere near full. It does keep rain and spindrift out, so it could be useful if you often find yourself climbing in foul weather.

This plastic hook is the closure for the lid. While it's quite durable  it seemed more fiddly than the standard side squeeze buckle.
This plastic hook is the closure for the lid. While it's quite durable, it seemed more fiddly than the standard side squeeze buckle.

All the external attachment points are possible spots for the pack to hang up while bushwhacking or hauling. Speaking of that, it lacks any hauling specific features and the sternum strap buckle is not an emergency whistle.

Durability


Arc'teryx has built this bag out of what they call, "N315r HT nylon 6,6 LCP fabric". It seems like 300 - 400 denier ripstop nylon. The ripstop grid feels more textured, they claim it's "liquid crystal polymer". We're not sure what all that really means, and we don't do any specific abrasion testing as part of this review.

That being said, the fabric does seem more durable than other nylons with the same denier. The buckle/hook that secures the lid seems very durable.

Versatility


The Alpha AR 20 is not our first choice for trips in town where style matters. That consideration aside, this is a versatile bag. It sports a number of external attachment points, including two daisy chains that the shock-cord runs through. Ice tool attachment points make this pack great for quick alpine climbs.

It's not our first choice to pack into a bigger bag for a multi-day backcountry trip. There are less bulky and lighter options for that.

The Alpha AR loaded up for a day of ice climbing. The lid is hard to use when the pack is this full  and certainly can't be used to retain the rope. Multiple external attachment points gave us other options for securing our cord.
The Alpha AR loaded up for a day of ice climbing. The lid is hard to use when the pack is this full, and certainly can't be used to retain the rope. Multiple external attachment points gave us other options for securing our cord.

Weight


The Arc'teryx Alpha AR 20 weighs 1.2 pounds (19 ounces, 544 grams). This is just above average for our pack line-up. The hip belt, sternum strap, shock-cord, and part of the ice tool attachments can be removed to save weight.

Weighing the Alpha AR 20.
Weighing the Alpha AR 20.

Value


The Alpha AR is one of the pricier packs in our review. If you're looking for a pack specifically for multi-pitch rock climbing, we don't think it's a good value. If this will be a daypack that you use for all sorts of other applications, then it could be a slightly better value, though other alpine focused daypacks exist for less money.

Conclusion


Any item designed for all-around use will be less effective at a specific job than one designed for that job, and that's the case with the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 20. It's very versatile, but not always our first choice for climbing comfort, and its general-purpose feature set doesn't always stack up well against packs designed specifically for rock climbing.

This pack does well on cold alpine days  when the larger-than-average capacity and the ability to carry ice and snow gear will be appreciated.
This pack does well on cold alpine days, when the larger-than-average capacity and the ability to carry ice and snow gear will be appreciated.


Ian McEleney